The 4 Winds Trust, a charitable organisation set-up to distribute funds to the communities of Auchtertool, Cowdenbeath, Lochgelly and Lumphinnans from the Little Raith Wind Farm is facing an investigation into governance issues by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR).
A spokesperson for OSCR stated “following an initial assessment I have identified some regulatory issues that I will be looking into further.”
Looking into the constitution for the 4 Winds Trust, an organisation that is operated under the guidance of the four community councils (Auchtertool, Cowdenbeath, Lochgelly & Lumphinnans), it appears that there are several breaches to their governance document, which could result in the 4 Winds Trust losing its charitable status.
The most obvious, is the lack of audited accounts registered with OSCR. With the 4 Winds registered as a charity on the 5th April 2013, financial accounts were due to be submitted in April 2014. With an extension applied, accounts could be submitted as late as January 2015. Yet as of January 2016, no financial accounts have been submitted for the first two years of operation.
Without any financial record of their activities, there can be very little public oversight, with the only form of public accountability available through the minutes of the Trust.
Minutes have been requested from Steven Murray, chairperson of the Trust, Lochgelly Community Councillor and former election agent for local Labour Councillors.
Mr Murray responded “There are no minutes required from the Trustees group.”
This is a direct breach of the constitution:
The Board shall cause minutes to be made of all decisions made by it and of the proceedings of all Members’ Meetings and of all Board meetings and of sub-committees, including the names of those present, and all business transacted at such meetings and any such minutes of any meeting, if purporting to be signed after approval, either by the chairman of such meeting, or by the chairman of the next succeeding meeting, shall be sufficient evidence without any further proof of the facts therein stated. The minutes shall be retained for at least 10 years.
There are also other apparent breaches, which could jeopardise the charitable status of the organisation. The constitution states:
An Annual Member Meeting should have been held no later than July 2014, fifteen months from the 4 Winds Trust’s registration date (5th April 2013). As yet there has been no Annual Members Meeting, which is currently overdue by 16 months.
Despite this fact, one of the trustees misinformed the Lochgelly Community Council at the October 2015 meeting stating “It is recognised that there needs to be a full member meeting after 18 months in existence and that was approximately 3 months overdue.”
The information provided to Lochgelly Community Councillors is factually incorrect, as can be seen by reading section 6.1.1 of the 4 Winds Trust constitution, and the Annual Members Meeting should have been held in July 2014, fifteen months after the official registration date of 5th April 2013.
Further to these breaches, there has been an issue for the Trustees in managing to maintain a quorum to conduct business.
Currently the 4 Winds Trust has been making financial decisions with only four active Trustees, despite the constitution clearly requiring five trustees before any decisions can be made. The constitution states:
7.4.2 The Board may act notwithstanding any vacancy in it, but where the number of Trustees falls below the minimum number specified in this Clause, it may only do so for the purpose of appointing sufficient Trustees to match or exceed that minimum.
12.1.1 The quorum for Board meetings shall be not less than 5 Trustees. No business shall be dealt with at a Board meeting unless a quorum is present.
The absence of a quorum means that financial decisions made by the board members has been in breach of the constitution and is open to legal challenge. Without any minutes or public records for financials, the 4 Winds Trust has been operating with no public oversight, no public transparency and no public accountability.
Two 4 Winds Trustees have had employment with Unison, with one serving as Unison’s Fife Branch Manager and later as the election agent for two local Labour councillors. These same Trustees are currently employed by Fife Council. It is very hard to imagine that these Trustees would fail to understand the importance of good governance or lack the experience, knowledge and skills to follow regulations and governance procedures. Was it just gross negligence and incompetence that led them to ignore the 4 Winds constitution so comprehensively, or was it deliberate?
The money for the 4 Winds Trust was provided as a Community Benefit package to the four communities, with the 4 Winds Trust entrusted to distribute funds fairly and open to public scrutiny. The public have a legal right to know where the funds are going, but clearly to-date this has not been the case.
The four community councils (Cowdenbeath, Auchtertool, Lumphinnans & Lochgelly) should conduct their own investigations and ensure that competent representatives are in place, to ensure that the organisation is not brought into further disrepute, is open and transparent to public scrutiny and public oversight.